Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rapha House & Human Trafficking

On Monday I finished reading through the New Testament, and Revelation 22 had an unexpected surprise for me.

Revelation 22:1-2 - "And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations."

I will preface this by saying that I have a leaf tattooed on the palm of my left hand. It's significance came to me from Psalm 1 (for the full context, see the previous blog) and Isaiah 49.

Psalm 1:3 - "They (the godly) are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

Isaiah 49:16 - (God speaking to his people:) "See, I have written your name on my hand."

In Revelation, we see that the leaves are for healing. My name is Laurel, which is a type of leaf, and the name means, "Crowned with Victory." My husbands name is Jason, which means, "Healer." After reading this, I see that he and I are symbolically even more fit for each other than we might have realized. My journaled, "Lord, please use my prayers and my life to heal the nations." No doubt this was a big prayer that one might never even be congnizant of the answer to, but in my case, I began to see it flesh itself out that very day.

Earlier in the week, the Lord brought the global tragedy of human trafficking to my heart, and I began praying about it and researching what opportunities might be available to help with this in my own small way within my community. I found Rapha House, which, incidentally, in Hebrew, means "Healing House." It is an educational and fund raising facility for safe houses for young girls being rescued from child prostitution in Cambodia and Thailand. I took a visit there on Monday afternoon and received a tour and gave them my name for future volunteer opportunities. I look forward to becoming more educated myself, and helping with this task as much as I can that is so central to the heart of God.

Tomorrow is Third Thursday here in Joplin, which is an Art walk down Main Street each month. They told me at Rapha House that they have several hundred visitors pass through on these nights. May hearts be touched and people be motivated to participate in setting these captives free.

Isaiah 61:1-3 - "This Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD's favor has come, and with it the day of God's anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory."

The "Bad Man" in Our Hearts

After one of the hardest, yet most amazing summers of my life, I am finally ready to sit down and write again. I've got some reflections, mostly rooted in Scripture, and a little Ted Dekker to boot.

From my daily reading yesterday:
Psalm 1 - "Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, of join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

But this is not true of the wicked. They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction."

In Ted Dekker's book, Three, he points out through his captivating story-telling, that each of us have these three parts to us: the good, the bad, and that which mediates between the two of them, deciding which choice to ultimately make in the end. I've heard it described many ways, most recently as a dog fight between a black and a white dog. So which side has the likelier chance of winning? Obviously whichever dog you feed more. And the dog that is starved is more likely to lose.

I recently heard one child ask another, "Do you have God in your heart?" The answer was a thoughtful, though slightly hesitant yes. It was then followed up with what I found to be a brilliant and concrete explanation of the human dillema: "But there's also a bad man in my heart." Could we as adults have said it any better, or been any more in tune? I explained that the good news is, because we also have God in our hearts, when the "bad man" tells us to do the wrong thing, we can ask God for help to do the right thing.

Lord, may I feed the white dog, and starve the black. May I call on You for help when the bad man would like to have his way.

Isaiah 26:2 - "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!"

I have also heard this phenomenon described as a scale with two balances. The flesh reigns over one side, and the Spirit over the other. Whichever side we choose to give our mind to is the side that will be tipped in the balances.

Romans 8:6 - "If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace."

So if there is one in Christ who is not experiencing life and peace, all one needs to do is turn from the flesh and turn to the Spirit, and it is sure to come. And likewise, if there is one outside of Christ who is not experiencing life and peace, all one needs to do is the same. It is simply called repentance. Turning from sin and turning to God, surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, and receiving his forgiveness and cleansing.

2 Corinthians 3:17 - "... wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

As self-willed human beings, we do not want to be lorded over by anyone, but the truth is, we are either slaves to sin, or slaves to God.

Romans 6:16 - "Don't you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval."

Mark 10:45 - "For even the Son of Man came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus Christ is the only Lord who is also a servant. Sin certainly will not offer us this advantage.

And the other thing I've found is that every freedom also has a corresponding bondage. I can be free from the burden of brushing my teeth, but then I will be in bondage to dental bills and all kinds of oral nastiness. Or, I can subject myself to the wisdom of brushing my teeth, and have the corresponding freedom of good teeth. In the same way, I can submit myself to the will and way of God and Jesus Christ, and I can experience life and peace. Or I can separate myself from his commands, and experience the natural consequences in life... not to mention a long term judgment, which really is only the continuation of the natural consequences of my choices on earth.

But this is not the heart of God. This is not his desire for you or me.

2 Peter 3:9 - "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent."

My peace is found in repentance, and humbling myself before the Lord, and walking in relationship with Him, but also as need be, before my fellow man.

Romans 12:18 - "Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as is possible."

This is what I strive for, though as indicated in the passage, it may not always be possible.

Come, Lord Jesus! Fill us with the Holy Spirit. And may the white dog win in all of our hearts!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sunset Beach & Divine Appointments

Since I grew up in Southern California, I tried to learn to surf once. I nearly drowned myself, so that quickly came to an end. It worked out alright, though, as I don't really like being cold and wet. I do, however, like to read and pray, and LOVE spending time in nature As a result, I decided that the better choice for me was to sit on the rock jeddy at Sunset beach, WATCH the surfers, and do what I preferred. I did this often on Sunday mornings before church, and ended up meeting many interesting people.

One Sunday I had just gotten back from Italy, and ended up meeting an Italian man who ended up following me to church and enjoying a service. Another time I had just gotten back from the Philippines and met a Philipino girl who allowed me to pray for her. I loved the "coincidences" that led to great conversations and opened the doors to conversate about spiritual things. Divine appointments are one of my favorite things to pray for, and then continue with my life and watch as the Lord works out His creative plans.

Stick Shifts & Safety Belts

This title is a tribute to the "Cake" song that I love with the same name. Special thanks to my brother for introducing me to it. Check it out on youtube if you want a moment of enjoyment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkgXArxRxy8

The real story I want to tell is short and sweet, so I thought I'd spice it up a bit with a little extra fun. :) It's the story of when & how I learned to drive stick.

It was the end of my freshman year of college and I was getting ready to spend the summer in Washington state doing an ministry internship with my former youth pastor, Byron Waggoner. I was sitting in a computer lab one day and heard a rather random word from the Lord: "You're going to learn to drive stick soon. Just wanted you to know. :)" It seemingly came out of nowhere, but it definitely felt like it had the smiley-faced emoticon at the end of it.

A couple days later Byron called. We were discussing logistics of the summer and he asked, "You know how to drive stick, right?" No, I replied. "Well I guess you'll be learning soon, because the car I got you to drive for the summer is stick."

So when I got to Washington, Byron taught me to drive a stick-shift, in a yellow VW Bug that I named "Guardian." I used to think that would be a cool name for a boy, and we could call him Ian for short... Jason's probably glad that the car came first. ;)

Mentoring Prostitutes


I began a four-year discipleship program with my youth pastor when I was 12 years old. One of the things he taught me about was how to keep a prayer diary and to pray regularly for missionaries and world issues. I remember from these early days, developing a heart specifically for prostitues. I prayed that the Lord would raise up people to love them in purity and pay them to bring them home and care for them as human beings, rather than for their regular services. This is a prayer that has stayed with me over the years, until not so long ago, I realized I was now old enough to be part of the answer.

Last year, one of Jason's mentors gave him a book to read called "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire," by Jim Cymbala. It rocked him and inspired his prayer life in a way I hadn't seen in him before. As a result, we began staying at church after first service to pray through 2nd service. It was in one of those prayer times that the Lord began speaking to my heart about my role in ministry to prostitues.

It may not come as a large surprise that Jason was not immediately inclined in the direction I was feeling pulled. He didn't want to have anyone over for dinner, but he was open to me exploring other opportunities with already established ministries. This was when I learned about Heather Veitch. Heather is a former stripper, who came to the Lord, and after a season of separation, she now goes back into strip clubs to share Christ with other girls. Heather is based in Las Vegas, so I knew I wouldn't be working with her, but I started looking in Dallas for similar ministries. Needless to say, Heather is unique, and I didn't find anything quite along those lines. I think Jason was a bit relieved.

After a fairly extensive online search, I found Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound is an inhouse treatment center that works with the Dallas Police Department in what they call "Prostitution Diversion Initiative." Police Officers were noting an alarming trend: truck drivers coming through the city, hiring prostitutes, using their services, and then killing them before they continued out of town within a day, virtually untrackable. The officers realized this was happening in alarming numbers, and these women were dying as Jane Doe's. As a result, they set up a monthly sting operation to focus more intently on arresting prostitutes, essentially to protect them from the liabilities of their work. Many of these women are then given the option of a jail sentence, or a period of time at Homeward Bound, where they can get tools to change their life patterns if they want the help. This is where I come in. As part of their design for rehabilitation, Homeward Bound has a mentoring program to allow these women to interact with other ladies from different walks of life, to share their stories and to be encouraged. I decided to become a mentor.

Homeward Bound is located in Oak Cliff, which is in South Dallas, and does not have a reputation for safety or high end living. The first night I went to the training session, my drivers side car window was shattered, but fortunately nothing was taken. I wasn't able to get it repaired til the next day, and wouldn't you just know it snowed that night! The beauty of it, though, was that I didn't mind much at all! My heart was so full with this amazing opportunity that lay before me. What a privilege to sow positive seeds into the lives of these women, and expand my own life experience through the stories of their lives.

I met many women over the 5 months I was able to participate in this program, and even had the privilege of leading the first young girl I met with to the Lord. Another woman was already a Christian and lead Bible Studies in the unit, but sadly returned to crack and an abusive boyfriend just a couple weeks after her release. Another woman ran away from home at 15 and found she was able to make a very nice living in prostitution, and therefore found no motivation to stop, until she realized dealing drugs was just as lucrative. Yet another woman, self-admitted to the center, was working on her PhD while gainfully employed at three jobs. One job was for the bills, the 2nd was for her drugs, and the 3rd was for extra money. She had always been a very functional addict, and therefore was never really motivated to stop. When her live-in boyfriend found out, they decided together that it was time. She had never sold herself, but had other racy jobs to help satisfy her income requirements. The last woman I met with, had "changed teams" as she phrased it, after many abusive relationships with men. Her girlfriend lived in Houston, and she was encouraging her to stay there, so she could start her life over in Dallas around people who would be a better influence. She said her conscience convicted her of her lifestyle so much that she wasn't even able to enjoy it! It was also, she said, the only thing keeping her out of church. After our conversation she seemed prone to revert to her "original team," and I told her I would pray for the right people to continue to encourage her in the right direction.

My impact in the lives of these women was small, but they repeatedly commented on how nice it was to have some time out with someone who was positive and could speak encouragement into their lives. As Jason & I transition to Missouri, I hope in some way I will be the answer to other people's prayers... and maybe even my own.

Pregnant With Possibilities

Thanksgiving 2008, Jason & I drove to Missouri. On our way there we listened to a message by Skip Heitzig on the book of Genesis. At one point he referenced Sarah, and the promise she received that she would be with child one year from that date. As I heard it, I sensed the Spirit whisper to my spirit that I too would be pregnant one year from that date. At first I was excited, then I realized that this wouldn't fit very well into our get-out-of-debt/then-start-a-family plan, and suggested to the Lord that His timing might not be right on this one! Haha... don't we always know so much better than He does?! Or not.

Throughout the next year, this thought came back to my mind. I contemplated pregnancy and the bigger picture of our lives. I still wasn't sure I wanted this so soon, but knew it would really be a blessing whenever it came, and that the Lord had the biggest picture in mind. Then, right around 4th of July, I sensed the Spirit speak again that at this same time the next year we would have a baby. The timing seemed to line up with a November pregnancy, so I continued to ponder.

Thanksgiving 2009 we found ourselves driving to Missouri again. The day before we left we signed up for advertizing with The Knot Wedding Websites for our Catering company. It was a big move, and I felt the Lord speak to my spirit that we were pregnant with possibilities! I considered the timing, and realized it was one year from the date that He told me we'd be pregnant. Normally this type of interpretation would feel like a cop out to me, but since it came directly from the Lord, I thought I might take it!

As the early months of 2010 progressed, we began to realize that our move to Missouri was imminent. A day or two before the idea came up, I saw a notice on our kitchen table from our apartment complex indicating that our lease was up at the end of June. As plans took shape, we realized we would be getting to Missouri for Jason to start his career as an Executive Chef right around the 4th of July! We even tried to move up our date, and just didn't feel a peace.

In November we were pregnant with career possibilities, and in July we will be giving birth to his full-fledged cooking career! AND, in the process, we will be enhancing our ability to get out of debt, not diminishing it!!! The Lord is so good, and so creative in His communication! And Lord willing, babies will start coming around 2012!

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand."

- Proverbs

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Mother of Many"

My junior year of high school I began attending the Malibu Vineyard. This was the first time in my experience in the church where I was positively introduced to the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit. And I began exploring personal experiences with these demonstrations of the power of God. After a week of studying the Scriptures to make sure it was Biblical, I began praying in tongues for the first time during a worship at a Friday night youth service. According to 1 Corinthians 14:4, I was edifying my spirit as I prayed in this way.

Over the years since then, I've heard stories and personally experienced a few examples of the gift of interpretation of tongues. None of these have been so compelling to me as what I experienced when I moved to Texas and became a leader in a youth ministry where students were practically trained in these gifts. One of the other youth leaders had a small group where he explained to the youth that he was going to pray in tongues, and if anyone understood what he was saying, just let him know. After he finished, one of the girls in the group said, "Sure, I understand. Here's what you said..." She said it was as though she heard the words translated in her mind into English.

I was fascinated with this practical method of discovering spiritual gifts, and wanted to experience it personally. So one Sunday after church I went to lunch with this student and her small group leader. I prayed for a few minutes in tongues, and she wrote down what she heard. I have the full paragraph in my old journal, and may add that later, but the part I remember that resonated strongly in my spirit was this part of my prayer: "Lord, make me a Mother of Many."

Last year when I started attending Trinity Church in Dallas, I quickly got to know several of the staff members, but was still unknown to the youth pastor, Dustin Sample. Those that I spoke with knew that my background was in youth ministry, and told him about me at a staff meeting. The next day at a prayer meeting several church leaders stood up to give prophetic words. Dustin, who is very gifted in this way, chose me out of the crowd and said, among other things, "You are a mother of many." All the other staffers laughed at his accuracy, as he spoke without a natural clue. And while everyone else knew my background in ministry, no one else knew the deep prayer of my heart that was recognized that day in the word that he gave.

Last Monday we celebrated Memorial Day with Dustin, his family, and several other families from the church. As we were getting ready to leave, knowing that this was one of our last times together before our move, Dustin said, "Don't forget that word I gave you when you came. You are a mother of many." The depths of my spirit responded immediately, and I fought to choke back the tears.

What might this look like in Missouri? I suppose we never fully know in advance, but my spirit is expectant for His purposes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Years Later


While I'm on the topic of college dating, I thought I'd share another story, a shot in the arm of sorts, before the Lord brought the real deal into my life... Mr. Wike.

In my final semester of undergrad, I felt like the Lord spoke to my heart and said, "I'm going to bring someone into your life this summer, but I want you to do a couple of things to prepare yourself." My initial thought was, "Really? Was that really You, Lord? Cause if it is, I'm down... but..." Anyways, I decided to do the two assignments just in case.

The first was to read the book, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." Great book, that I would definitely recommend. I had that one completed fairly quickly, and felt far more educated on the topic of the uniquenesses of men and women.

The second was inspired by something I'd read in the book, "Celebration of Discipline." It was written by a Pastor named Richard Foster. One of the chapters was on Confession, and Pastor Foster wrote of how in his early days as a pastor, he felt that he lacked power in his ministry. As he began to study historical spiritual leaders, he realized that the practice of confession to another human being was a discipline that has largely been lost in the Protestant Church. As a result, he chose to sit down and write out detailed lists of his sins from childhood, young adulthood and adulthood. He then confessed them all to a trusted friend. This became my second task.

One of my closest friends flew through California on her way to China for the summer, and we had the oppotunity to take a short trip to Catalina Island. Ten years earlier, I had prayed to receive Christ on this Island, and hadn't been back since, so it was a significant trip for me. She and I returned to the little man-made beach in Avalon where I gave my heart to the Lord, and there I confessed my sins to her. When we were done, I prayed, "Alright, Lord. If that was You, my parts done!"

That night my friend and I visited the young adults ministry at my church for the first time since I'd been back in California, and I met Daniel. It wasn't till the next week that I realized he was interested in me. I had spent the majority of that first evening telling him all about the screenplay I was writing. He apparently was intrigued.

We spent the majority of the summer hanging out, and a few weeks into it he asked, "So did you think you were going to meet someone this summer?" Through a smile, I said yes, and told him my story. He laughed and said, "Do you want to hear my story?"

About 5 months earlier, Daniel had been praying with one of our prophetic pastors about his future spouse. He was in his late 20's, and definitely had marriage on the mind. As they prayed, the pastor said, "Do you know anyone named Laura, Laurie, Laur... I'm just getting that name for you." Daniel did not, so they moved on. Then, about a week before we met, they were praying again, and the pastor said, "I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I think the Lord's going to bring someone into your life pretty soon." And what do you know.

Normally I'm not really fond of of prophetic words that speak to romantic relationships, but in this case things seemed to line up. We both thought immediately that this type of meeting automatically meant that we were destined to be married. But that is not what the Lord had said. We drew our own little conclusions. ;) By the end of that summer we had figured out that destiny was not winding our paths together, and we parted on good terms.

So what was this all about? I definitely asked myself that question. No doubt it was a blessing to feel encouraged in the fact that I was desirable and someone could feel this way about me after a long season of not much dating at good old Wheaton. I also think there's value in just getting to know people even if something serious doesn't come of it. That leads me back to my philosophy on dating, which is significantly influenced by Henry Cloud's book, "How to Find a Date Worth Keeping." Maybe I'll touch on that at some point. We'll see. ;)

Ring That Bell

This is the Tower at Wheaton College where all the engaged couples go to proclaim their joy to the world through the ringing of the tower bell. The top floor looks like a cultic worship site from all those who have climbed the stairs, rung the bell, and left something behind to commemorate the big event. :) I have visited the Tower with friends, but am only now considering actually ringing it when I return for my 10 year reunion in 2011 with my husband who came along a little later in life.

Dating at Wheaton was weird. I guess that's no surprise, since dating among Christians can be weird anywhere. But if you throw in the "Ring by Spring or your money back!" mentality, it gets even more complicated. You understand. I was one who refused to participate in this mind set, though of course would not have been opposed to something great if it presented itself along the way. My greatness came later... about 7 years later, to be exact. But I was thankful for my single years, and milked them for all they were worth when it came to investing in the Kingdom!

Nonetheless, I am a woman, and my heart did yearn for relationship. There was a period in time while at Wheaton where I prayed, "Lord, I would like to go on more dates, but I don't want to initiate! Can you help me out with that?" I could hardly believe it when He did!

That week I was asked out 4 times. This was very unusual. The first invitation came from a young man named Matt. He called and left a message on my answering machine to see if I'd like to go to the Mongolian Bar-B-Q that week. I called him back and let him know that was my favorite restaurant! "I know," came his reply. :) We had a great time.

Another young man name Andy walked up from behind me as we were heading towards the Billy Graham Center to class. He said, "How come I don't know you yet? We have all the same friends in common! I think we should know each other." He proceded to invite me out to lunch.

Two other young men invited me to meals that week as well. None of these guys had particularly serious intentions, which was actually nice, but I was still taken-aback that this type of prayer was answered! God cared about these needs of my heart! Later I tried praying this prayer again, and nothing happened, which made me laugh, but I always have this experience to look back to. God knows how He made us, and even if His best isn't planned for the immediate, he wants His kids to know that they are loved. I felt loved and blessed, and encouraged that God had this part of my life in His hands.

This Is My Body, Part II

I was always a tom boy growing up, and an athlete for as long as I can remember. I have also been a Christian since I was 12, and was mentored in my early years by a man, so my feminine attributes were never of utmost importance to me. I really don't think I started wearing make-up consistently until college, and didn't realize that something might seriously need to change until long after that!

I think it was when I was a youth pastor in Malibu, CA (age 25/26) that I began to understand that my physical appearance could actually make a difference in the Kingdom of God. I started realizing that my personal presentation made a difference in how seriously people took the spiritual things I had to say... at least in Malibu. :) I don't think this realization fully hit me until after I'd gone through my "Makeover" and I saw how involved God was in the process.

This transformation in my life started when I read Henry Cloud's book called, "How To Find a Date Worth Keeping." Great book, btw! I was visiting Louisiana with my good friend Kim, when I read Dr. Clouds suggestion to ask a friend to be honest with you about something that was not attractive about you. Kim was all to willing! "The hair," she said! "We've got to do something about the hair!" Of all the things she could have said, it's funny to me that she started with my hair, but it did at least get the ball rolling.

We made general plans to go see our friend Kristin's hair-dresser, cause she really like him and thought he would be great for me, but he just kept not being available.

During this time, I was working at a gym, but was going to be starting at another position shortly, where I would have to dress up to go to work. Also during this time, I went to a conference at a church in Pasadena. I went to a seminar for youth leaders, and had two young gentlemen, whom I'd never met before, pray prophetically over me at the end of the session. Mind you, we were there for youth ministry, but this is what they prayed! One said, "I'm getting this picture of you taking off a sweatsuit and putting on a dress." The other said, "I believe you're going to start dressing differently and doing your hair differently." REALLY??!! Come on, God! I didn't know you cared about that stuff! A prophetic word about how I dress and what I look like?! You really are bigger than my little human brain has conceived.

So I started my new job, incidentally at a company called "Chrysalis." This is the name of the cocoon that a caterpillar hides-out in while it's transformed into a butterfly! I was only there for one month, but during that time received an email from an acquaintance at church. She explained that she and her family owned a company called Body Beautiful, and they were looking for people who might be interested in a "Makeover" with $1500 worth of free consulting, etc. All I'd need to provide was money for new clothes, and they'd go shopping with me, do a full style analysis, hair-cut/color, etc. They wanted to use the before & after pictures for their company's website. I could hardly believe what I was reading!! One of the high school students that I mentored at the time was actually with me at work that day, and I remember showing her the email and staring at each other in disbelief! Could this be anymore perfect!! I couldn't respond fast enough!

We got started soon thereafter, and met several times throughout the course of a couple weeks. If you want to see more pictures and read about the process, check out their website at www.bodybeautifulonline.com. We completed the process on a Friday afternoon, just in time for our young adults group that night. When I got there, I kid you not, a guy I'd known for many years, saw me across the room. When I said hi, he responded in kind, but racked his brain trying to figure out how in the world he knew me!

After the makeover was complete, my friends came over to my house, and helped me go through my closet and figure out how to sustain these new changes that I was already loving! I still prefer going shopping with friends who are a little more naturally gifted in this area than I am, and am thankful for a husband who has a great sense of style! :) But I've come a long way, baby!! And I'm so thankful.

My favorite comment at the end of this process came from my friend Sharon Rhodes. She said, "Now your outsides match your insides!" And the Kingdom of God is advancing in ways I never thought about before! Just a few months ago, I went shopping with several girlfriends, one who'd come out of a homosexual lifestyle. She wanted to be more feminine, but really just didn't know how to get there herself. I wasn't the one picking out clothes for her, per say, but I was there for moral / "Laurel" support, as an encouragement that transformation is possible.

Some people may not want to change or be called to change in this way, but I am thankful that this was part of the grace the Lord had in store for me. This experience has opened my eyes to see that God cares about things that I would naturally judge as unspiritual. I've found, and hope I never forget, that the spiritual world touches a lot more of the natural world than might be percieved at first glance. Come open our eyes, Lord Jesus, that we might see You in the hidden places.

In Loving Memory


I don't feel like I have closure in my writing on this topic of my Dad's life and death, until I include the poem/song that I wrote, which was also a part of his Memorial Service Bulletin. I read it at his first service, then put it to music with some friends, and played the recording at his boat memorial.

In Loving Memory

"Where do I begin? There's so much to remember.
This time alone brings back a flood of memories.
The questions that you asked, the stories that you told,
The things you did, few men could be so bold.


Your memory's so real inside,
It's something that I cannot hide.
I look around and see traces of you.
In "J" and me our mom can see,
The life from you that's still to be.
Your spirit lives, your memory will too.
Our hearts will never be without you.


I was gone all summer, you sent me on my way.
I loved my time in Israel, you must have worried every day.
I got home safe to say goodbye, with just one day to spare.
I'm glad God let you wait for me, I guess He found it fair.

Dad, we know you loved us; and mom, she knew it too.
She'd never doubt your faithfulness, there was no reason to.
You died at home right in her arms, you'd have wanted it that way.
She cried to you, but we both knew that you had gone away."

Dr. Charles Justin Swigert - a.k.a. "Dad"

So no, this is not a picture of my Dad... as you may know, it is Albert Einstein. I do, thankfully have pictures of my Father, but none electronically accessible at the moment. And I think Mr. Einstein is a fair representation of my Dad's heart and mind. Fun-loving, brilliant, and a bit eccentric! Dad always thought if it weren't for the family he would have turned into a mad scientist, and we never doubted it a bit!

After my last post, I thought I'd include a copy of what my girlfriend read from Dad's Memorial Service Bulletin. He was pretty impressive, and I'm really proud of him. Though my children will never get to meet him, I still want them to know him.

Dr. Charles Justin Swigert

"C.J. was clearly destined for a scientist's life ever since he built his own wind tunnel in the family basement. Graduating from Evanston Township High School in the top 10 percent of his class, C.J. continued his education at Princeton University. He graduate Cum Laude in Electrical Engineering in 1961, after which he earned his M.A. degree in Aeronautical Engineering (with a minor in Linguistics) from the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. in Biomedical/Electronic Engineering and Computer Science from UC Berkeley.

C.J. lectured at Berkeley for several years before entering the private sector as a research scientist and became one of the architects of the govenment Star Wars strategy and technology. In addition to working on government contracts, he also worked out of his home office after moving to the Palisades in 1975. As president of Electromag, he held several patents for his inventions.

C.J. was active in the community, volunteering his time to work with his son Justin's Boy Scout troop and his daughter Laurel's Indian Princess tribe. He worked closely with potential Eagle candidates from Troop 223, seeing them through the complicated process of obtaining the highest rank in scouting. He and the other Indian Princess fathers became such good friends they continued their meetings long after the girls were too old to participate in the program. When his children were younger, C.J. was active at Palisades Elementary School, serving as PEP board President and was a driving force behind the implementation of the school's first computer class.

In addition to his loving wife, Karen, C.J. is survived by his two children, Justin (a senior at UC Santa Barbara) and Laurel (who attends Wheaton College in Illinois); his mother, Marjorie Helm Swigert; his brother, Thomas (wife Sue); and his sister, Margaretta. He was preceded in death by his faterh, Dr. Verne Swigert, and his brother, Stevenson."

The Lighter Side of Death


When my Dad passed away, we realized quickly that we couldn't cry all the time, so we decided to laugh too. We remembered stories about my Dad that were entertaining, to say the least, and even created a few new stories that made us chuckle in the midst of our days of sadness.

One of my favorite stories is from when my brother and I were discussing Dad's laptop computer, after his passing, before I returned to college. I wanted to take it with me, as there were at least 5 others at the house that Mom could use if she had need (Dad was an Electrical Engineer, and loved his computers!). Justin was strongly opposed to this idea, as Dad hated the thought of laptops at college. This was due to the fact that they were too easy for someone to pick up and walk away with. After several minutes of heated discussion, I got frustrated. Without thinking, I vented, "So who died and left you in charge!?!?!" Justin paused for a second with a look on his face that seemed to say, "Are you serious?" When he finally pushed words out of his mouth, he said, "Ummmm, Dad?" It wasn't till then that I realized what I had said. It was a moment of decision... we could laugh or cry. We laughed... really hard!

In September of that year, a good friend of mine from college just happened to be home in Califormia the same weekend that I flew home for my Dad's Boat Memorial. As a result, she joined us on the boat, and we flew back to Illinois together. On the plane ride home she was reading the tribute to his life from the service bulletin, and exclaimed enthusiastically: "You're Dad's like the smartest man alive!!!!" I laughed internally and responded wittingly, "Yes, except for one thing... the alive part!" She felt horrible, but my light-heartedness quickly disarmed her. We got a good laugh, and I'm sure Dad was smiling in Heaven.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Is My Body, Part I

My Dad was 59 when he passed away. For his 60th birthday we had a special family memorial to scatter his ashes to the sea. I flew back to California for the weekend and we took out a small boat into the Marina, where he used to frequent in his younger days. His body had been cremated, and his ashes were contained in a plastic bag in a wicker basket with rose petals placed over the top. Before we left the harbor, my Mom offered me the opportunity to touch/feel his remains. I was nervous, but knew I would regret it if I didn't. I moved the flower petals aside and dipped my fingers into the ashes. I rubbed them together between my fingers. It was a sensation I knew I'd never forget.

Several months later I was back at school. It was a Campus Wide Day of Prayer, and we had an All School Communion in the evening. For some reason that night I just felt that I had to go... like there was some sort of Divine appointment waiting for me. I've learned to follow these promtings.

That evening our Chaplin shared a brief message, and then called us forward to take the bread and the wine. Communion can be served in different ways, but this night there were people positioned around the chapel who held held full loaves of bread & chalises of grape juice. I went to one of them and broke off a small piece to dip in the juice. When I took the bread to my mouth, the grape juice dripped down my arm, and gave me a sensation of the blood of Christ. In the moments that followed, I rubbed my fingers together to remove the bread flour from my fingers. I was immediately taken back in time. The last time I felt this feeling, it was my Dad's body. This time it was what represents the Body of Christ. Communion has never been the same for me since.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Latter Glory

I returned home to California on July 7, 1999 after touring the Holy Land for 5 1/2 weeks with my college. I was 20 years old. My Mom picked me up from the airport by herself. This was unusual, especially after a trip of this magnitude. I hadn't seen my parents since Christmas time, and I knew they would be eager to reconnect. My Mom explained that my Dad was sick and was home resting. I figured he must have had more than a head cold to miss an airport pick-up, and as Mom spoke, I realized I was right. She described his condition, trying to make light of it, but concluded by saying cautiously, "I haven't really seen him this bad in 25 years of marriage." That caught my attention, and I remember thinking, "What if Dad dies?" but quickly brushed this thought off as an elementary school notion.

When we got home, Dad came downstairs to say hello. I could tell he was weak, and he looked incredibly pale. I encouraged him to go back upstairs, suggesting we speak the next day. I was shaken.

The next day I made him lunch, which he barely touch, and then he laid down on the living room floor. Later he took a bath to get ready for a doctors appointment originally scheduled for my Mom, but swapped out for him at the last minute. Whatever this was, it had overtaken him quickly.

My Dad called to me from the bathroom, asking me to get my Mom. When she came I stayed close-by, sensing something was wrong. I heard her say, "C.J. I need you to help me. I can't support your full weight by myself." A moment later she called for me to dial 911.

The ambulence was there in a matter of moments, and as they carried him out of the bathroom, they said, "We're trying to get him back." My Mom & I followed them to the hospital, singing, "It Is Well With My Soul" all the way. The paramedics were never able to revive my Dad. Instead, they invited us into his hospital room to say our last goodbyes. I remember laying my hand on his stomach with an amplified awareness that it was no longer moving up and down.

Ten days later we had my Dad's Memorial Service. It was a wonderful celebration of his life, and I watch the video every year, often on the anniversary of his passing. On that day, before we left for the service, I spent some time reading in the Biblical book of Haggai. I was reading through portions of the Old Testament after my trip to Israel. I was about to close my Bible when I was impressed to read it again. This is what I read:

Haggai 2

3'Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 4'But now take courage, Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD, 'take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,' declares the LORD, 'and work; for I am with you,' declares the LORD of hosts. 5'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' 6"For thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7'I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD of hosts. 8'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD of hosts. 9'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace,' declares the LORD of hosts."

My heart was quickened on this 2nd read, and I could hardly believe I'd missed it the first time. Virtually everything in this passage applied to us! I received it as a promise from the Lord.

Later that week I shared this passage with my Mom, specifically emphasizing verse 9: "'The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,' says the Lord of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace.'" My Mom said, "Laurel, I need you to keep sharing this with me." So I wood-burned a plaque that she kept on the window sill in the kitchen. After several weeks she said, "I'm almost starting to get excited! What's the Lord going to do?!"

____________________________________


It was about 2 months later that Todd Riddell came back on the scene. We had known him growing up as one of Mom's childhood friends, but she assured us he was never an old boyfriend. He had retired from the military at age 40, and lived in Arizona. He heard what happened with my Dad via the mother's grapevine, and called to see if he could help. Being retired, he was free to travel the country at will, and began coming out for week-long trips to fix everything that had ever been broken in our house. Mom said if it ever made my brother and me uncomfortable, to let her know and he'd be gone in a moment. But she was so cautious that we never felt we had to be! He was, after all, an incredible help.

During this time I returned to college, with a healthy scholarship provided through a family friend's "coincidental" connection with a woman at my school who "owed him a favor." All was done properly and in good order, and it worked out as a major blessing for us. ("The gold is Mine and the silver is Mine," declares the Lord.)

One day, back in California, Mom and Todd were having lunch on one of his monthly visits. He said, "You know, you can talk to me about C.J. if you want too." She proceeded to ask him how he had felt years ago when she sent him a letter at his Korean military base letting him know she was getting married. Her marriage was, after all, a farily quick decision, and she wanted to know what he thought. He choked for a moment, which she didn't understand, and she pressed to hear his answer.

After moments of mental deliberation, Todd replied, "You broke my heart. I loved you and was planning on coming home to marry you." Now it was my Mom's turn to choke. She had no idea. Todd said that within 15 minutes of being back in her presence he knew he still wanted to marry her. Each month he conveniently left several jobs undone, so he would have a necessary reason to return. He hadn't intended on sharing this information so close after my Dad's passing, but Mom left him virtually no choice.

____________________________________


Years before my Dad passed away, now and again my folks discussed if they would remarry if something happened to either of them. Dad had always said no, as he didn't think he'd have the energy to date again. I don't recall ever hearing an answer from my Mom. As it turns out, she didn't really date, as she and Todd entered into what might be considered a courtship. They were married 2 years later on June 23, 2001.

Todd has been an unexpected blessing in our lives. I never expected to have a step-parent, as my parents marriage was strong, and divorce was never discussed. However, the Lord knew that in the future, I myself would become a step-mom, and would need a good example. Todd gave me a car when I graduated from college, moved me cross country twice, and paid in full for my wedding, just to give the short list of his incredible generosity towards me. On my wedding day I toasted him, in part by saying, "Todd has never tried to replace my Father, but he has always done everything for me that my Dad would have wanted to do if he had been here to do it." While I spoke, Kiera stood by my side holding my hand. If I can be half the step-parent to her that Todd has been to me, I will count myself a success.

What is the Latter Glory? I believe the fullness is yet to be revealed, but Todd and Kiera are most definitely a large part!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How We Met

I moved to Texas in 2006 to be a part of a youth ministry in Fort Worth. Right around the same time, Jason moved to Dallas to help with a church plant. At my going away party in California, the consistent message I heard from my girlfriends was, "Girl, go find yourself a man!" Happily, my man found me. :)

I was in Texas for almost a year when I had my first breakup. I had been dating a young man for about 2 months, when he decided we needed to "take a break" so he could focus on work for awhile. He planned on getting back together later, but I knew in my heart that would not be happening. Despite my sadness at the breakup, I knew it was the right thing, and I shouldn't allow the relationship to reformulate after time.

This same month, I visited a small group and asked a woman who was known for her prophetic gifting to pray for me regarding the whole situation. She prayed what might be considered an unusual prayer, but one that really resonated with my spirit as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. She prayed, "Lord, as Laurel's leaving here today, I pray that she'll see a sign, a literal street sign, that You would use to encourage her spirit and speak to her." My heart was filled with a strange expectancy as I drove home that evening.

As I pulled out of the cul de sac, the first sign I saw read: "Single? KellerSingles.com." I laughed out loud, thinking, "That most certainly is not the Lord!" As I drove home, I saw another sign that said, "Business," and still another sign that said, "Family." I felt encouraged that both of these things were a part of my future, and I was on the right track.

The next night I attended a prayer meeting where I saw the prophetic woman again. I shared with her what had happened as I left the cul de sac, laughing all the while. Her response surprised me, to say the least, and peaked my curiousity. She was thoughtful and reflective, and left me with the feeling that that first sign just might have been the Lord after all! I went home and pulled up the website, and made an appointment to go to their Fort Worth office and find out more.

Around the same time, on the other side of town, Jason heard the Lord speak to his heart, "Now's the time for you for the right relationship that I have for you." Jason hadn't really dated for several years, and worked in an environment with all men. Also, the church plant he was a part of was made up of all married people and one single mom of three, which wasn't really what he was looking for. That said, he somehow heard about the same singles group I did and signed up as well!

This singles group had two dimensions to it: 1) They planned events in the city for people to attend and hang out, which I loved! and 2) There was the online dimension where you could view profiles and send invitations to people you would be interested in meeting personally. Not gonna lie, that part was fun too. :)

Jason found my profile and sent me an invitation. I saw right off the bat that he had a daughter and had been divorced, so I almost deleted him immediately, but then I went on to read what he had written. I could tell there was spiritual depth to him like I hadn't really expected to find in this group, so I thought I'd be a fool if I didn't at least give him a chance. Apparently that was a good choice!

Jason called me the next weekend and invited me out to lunch after church. That was a 2-3 hour lunch with much potential. He called again the next day and invited me to go to a football game the following Thursday of one of the students from his church. That was refreshing, as normally I was the one inviting others to youth events! I almost didn't go, as it seemed like a lot for one week, and we already had plans for the following Saturday, but I did end up going. I didn't want to discourage his initiative, which I found very refreshing.

The next Saturday we attended a picnic being put on by his church, and he cooked for me for the first time! That was definitely a hook, but was only one piece of what ultiamtely pushed me over the edge. We also talked for several more hours, and he told stories of movies he'd seen and books he read. I immensely enjoyed his fascination with the intricacies of plot lines!

Then came the kicker... He walked me to my car at the end of the picnic and said, "Well, I guess it's time for the big question." To be honest, I had no idea what he was talking about. :) He followed up by asking, "So, do you maybe want to go inactive?" It was awesome! He of course was referring to taking our names out of the mix for other people to contact within the singles group and give our relationship a try. I had never been asked so creatively to be someone's girlfriend! I obviously thought it would be worth a try, and as the proverbial "they" say, "The rest is history!"

Sunday, May 2, 2010

To Honor My Husband

With all this talk about jobs, it brings me back to one of the key reasons we are going to be able to move to Missouri... Jason's new job!! I am very proud of him, and wanted to post this video that our friend Ty Walsworth, from "Marriage Fight Club," made for me for Jason. video

Atlanta from Ashes


In all my enthusiasm about the jobs the Lord provided for me in California and Texas, I almost forgot that there is an equally cool story about my job in Atlanta.

I received a phone call just before Thanksgiving in 2002, which was my final year in Grad School. I was told that a mistake had been made and I could actually graduate in December instead of waiting until the Spring! This was great news on many levels, but did leave me feeling a little directionless at first. I went ahead and graduated and moved in with some friends from church. I got a job on campus and began praying more pointedly about the future. My Undergrad Degree was in Christian Education & Biblical Studies, and my Master's Degree was in Education Ministries. Despite this, I did not technically have a teaching degree or any formal teaching experience outside of the youth ministries I'd served for many years. I had been offered a job in Atlanta to teach at a small Christian School geared towards at-risk youth, but was cautioned against this by some, due to my lack of experience. I didn't know what to do, and was a bit torn up about it. I was struggling with a fairly serious bout of depression at the time, and found myself significantly paralyzed.

I began taking medication to help clear my head. Fortunately my body responded quickly and rays of hope seeped into my heart again. I went to the library and checked out the 7th edition of the Frommer's Travel Guide for Atlanta. On the first line of the first page it talked about the statue that is pictured above called, "Atlanta from Ashes." It is a woman holding a Phoenix, the bird that rises up out of it's own ashes, and is symbolic of Atlanta being rebuilt after the civil war. As I was reading about this statue the Lord spoke to my heart and said, "I want you to move to Atlanta. This is what I'm going to do in your life. I'm going to rise you up out of your own ashes." And that is exactly what happened!

When I got to Atlanta and started working, I realized that there was a tattoo parlor half way between my house and the school, so I passed it twice daily. I started asking myself what indelible image I might want permanently imbedded into my flesh, and what story it might represent that I never wanted to forget. I remembered "Atlanta from Ashes," and now have the continual reminder on the right side of the small of my back that God will give beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3) when we lay our ashes at His feet.

1 Destiny Way



When I moved to Texas I didn't have a job. I did, however, have some money in the bank, friends to stay with, and a lot of enthusiasm. I dove head first into youth ministry, and had a pretty full summer planned. At the end of the summer I had a trip scheduled to Austin to visit my cousin, and felt like the Lord said to not worry about looking for a job until I got back from there. This was a little nerve-racking for "she-who-likes-to-feel-responsible," but it was freeing at the same time.

During the summer months I prayed about what I was looking for in a job here, and once again came up with a list. This time I was praying for: 1) The opportunity to learn a new skill; 2) $30k annually; and 3) Full Benefits.

It was July when I first heard about Fidelity and what a great company it was to work for. I put a note in my calendar for the day after I'd be getting back from Austin to look into it. Before I left I met a girl name Nicole, who through small talk I found out actually worked there. As she told me about Fidelity, I realized it sounded like a great match for what I had been praying for. She said she thought they were having a job fair soon, and would look into it and call me back. Nicole called while I was in Austin and told me about the job fair taking place the Thursday after I was getting back. I showed up with 2 resumes in hand, interviewed, and was starting work one month later!

When I was given the offer, I was told the starting salary would be $28k. I was working in a different department than Nicole, and the base range was a little lower. That was ok with me, as I knew this job was from the Lord, but I still really felt the $30k amount was a prayer He has put on my heart to pray. I took it back to Him and just said, "Lord, I thought You had $30k for me. Is there something You can do about that?" I kid you not, the next day I got a call from the HR Department. I was told that all the phone associates were being given raises in the next couple of months and they wanted to start all the new hires at the new rate. So, effective my first day, my salary would be $30k instead of $28k. I'll take it, Lord! Thank You!

I spent my first 6 weeks in training, learning all about 401ks, and later transitioned to Pensions, learning again much more. Fidelity paid me to study for and take the Series 6 & 63 licensing exams, and I can most certainly say these have been new skills added to my repertoire! As we move to Missouri I am looking for positions in the banking industry, but am keeping my knees bent, as I never know what new surprises the Lord has up His sleeve!

My Move to Texas


It was Christmas 2005 that some very good friends of mine left Malibu to move to Texas. And when they did, I felt the Lord speak to my heart and say, "You will be together again." I had no idea how quickly that would be!

It was that same Christmas that I felt the Lord wooing me for the first time to a 40 day liquid fast. I had thought about the idea before, but to be honest, it scared me to death. This time, when the Lord brought it up, it was actually encouraging and exciting. He posed it to me this way: "Remember that 40 day fast we've talked about before? What do you think about now? You don't have to, but if you want to, I can speed some things up in your life for you." On the back of that word, I actually found myself eagerly anticipating going without solid food for 40 days! Crazy! :)

I started January 1, and on January 31st, Jil, my friend who had move to Texas (pictured above) called to let me know that they didn't have a Jr. High youth pastor there, and maybe I should consider coming. My heart immediately said yes, and I began considering the logistics. I was still the youth pastor at my current church, and did not want to leave without bringing proper closure for my students there. After a little time had passed, I told Jil I could come at the end of the summer.

A few months later, just before Easter, I was sitting in a Wednesday morning prayer meeting and heard the Lord speak and say, "Easter will be your last Sunday at this church." I didn't fully understand, since I had another youth event planned a couple weeks after Easter, and didn't want to back out on the kids. I figured the Lord knew, and time would tell. When I got to work that morning I had a message from Jil. She said, "You came up in staff meeting here yesterday. Jack [the senior pastor at her church] thinks your heart is great for wanting to stay with the kids through the summer, but he just thinks your move is going to happen faster than that. No pressure, but just thought I'd let you know." I called her back that day and shared with her what the Lord has spoken to my heart. Then, wouldn't you know it, the deadline came and went for the youth event, and for the first time ever, no kids signed up!! I started preparing for my move to Texas.

As I prayed about my departure date, June 15th is what came to mind. About 2 1/2 weeks prior to this date, I got in an accident with a semi-truck that crushed in the right side of my car. I had the car in the shop getting repaired while I took a week long preparatory trip to Texas to "look for a job." In retrospect, I think the real reason I was there was to be present for the launching of the Jr. High ministry, although I hadn't even heard it was going to be that week! When I flew back to L.A., the plan was to pack up and leave the following Thursday, three days after I'd come home. The trouble was, when my step-dad picked up my car and drove it home from the shop, it was making strange noises. He informed me that I would not be able to drive it cross country until I had it looked at and further repaired.

So Tuesday we took the car to the shop again and had it diagnosed. There was a problem with the stick shift. Normally for that car it could have taken up to 2 weeks for the part to be ordered, but "coincidentally" my step-dad had the part in his office! He owned 2 of the same car, and gave me this one for graduation from college. He was always prepared for work that might come up on his own car, and he graciously shard his supplies with me. Once again we were on track for a Thursday departure! I made it to Texas by Saturday, and didn't miss even one Sunday of the Jr. High ministry that I had moved there to serve!

Were all of these things coincidences? I for one would be hard pressed to believe it. I think it takes much less faith to believe that the Lord is living and active, speaking to the hearts, and working through the lives of His people.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

100 Wilshire


After Grad School I lived in Georgia for a year and taught at a small private Christians School called Springs Academy. That was a great season, but I was far away from family, and in 2004 I returned to good old Southern California. I worked at a gym for a year and in time became the volunteer youth pastor at my church. The gym was enjoyable while I was there, but after awhile, even as a manager, I decided that I wanted to kick my brain into a higher gear. About that time, in 2005, I drove past this building at 100 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica. The thought crossed my mind: "That's a cool building... I bet that would be a cool building to work in." Little did I know what lay in store for me!

You see, I had this list. It was a list of all the things I was looking for in a job. It was a list that my family tried to tell me was somewhat ridiculous, to put it nicely, but somehow that never affected the way I chose to think about it. I knew that the Lord knew my motives for having this list, and that He was fully capable of providing all I was asking for. I simply wanted to serve His Kingdom more effectively, but also make a necessary living.

So here was my list: 1) I didn't want to work more that 3 days a week; 2) I wanted to make at least $30k starting out; 3) I thought full benefits would be nice; 4) I wanted to be able to take off regular time to go on mission trips. Not ridiculous at all, right??!!

So I started asking around about available positions, and ended up speaking with a man from my church who helped with the financial matters there. I didn't know what he did, but I knew he was a successful business man, and had a heart for missions. After thanking him for his service to the church, almost on a whim, I shared with him what I was looking for in a job. I asked if he might possibly have anything available. He paused for a moment and said, "Yes, I actually think I do!" He gave me his assistant's name and number, and suggested I call her the next day.

As I walked away from that conversation, I realized what I had done. There was absolutely no way I could seriously go into an interview and ask for the things I was wanting! I was struck by how much of a slacker I would come off as! So, with this new revelation, I prayed and thanked the Lord that He could do whatever He wanted, but internally noted not to mention any of this in the appointment I set up with the personal assistant for the following week.

My initial interview was pleasantly casual, and I really enjoyed my interviewer, who was also a believer. When we sat to discuss business, the first words out of her mouth were, "So I hear you're looking for some flexibility." She proceeded to tell me that they needed more help, but didn't have enough work for another full time position. She said they'd like to hire me to be in the office full time, but only to do about 3 days of work a week. The rest of the time I could do what I needed to for the ministry, or anything else. Then she offered me a salary 1 1/2 times what I was hoping for, and said she didn't think full benefits would be a problem. Just for kicks at the end she said, "Oh, yes, and if you need a month off here and therefor mission trips, that shouldn't be a problem... and it won't affect your salary. I have some traveling I need to do as well, so you can just cover for me while I'm gone and I'll do the same for you."

Within 3 months I was starting my new position, and wouldn't you just know it that we officed at 100 Wilshire Blvd!

With a blessing like that, I thought I would have been in that position for a very long time. But in less than a year, my move to Texas was percolating in my spirit, and I got to start looking for a job all over again!

The Missouri Miracle


Those who live in Texas may be familiar with the bumper sticker that reads, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could!" Well, when it comes to Missouri, my husband's state of origin, the exact oppostie could be said: "He was born in Missouri, but he got out as fast as he could!" Jason did not like Missouri!

That is why it was such a miracle when he approached me on March 27, 2010, as we were preparing to cater a wedding, and said, "I've been kicking around an idea... please tell me if you think I'm crazy." He mentioned that he was considering calling a friend of his in Missouri who owned a restaurant that had offered him a job as an Executive Chef 6-8 months earlier. At the time we had turned it down, because we didn't think the timing was right, and because Jason hated Missouri, and was not planning on going back.

When Jason presented this idea to me, my jaw almost fell off of my face! I had often thought about returning to be closer to Kiera, but wasn't sure spiritually it would be the right move. Jason's upbringing in a church that taught him that promiscuity was ok, among other things, left him with the feeling that there was nothing spiritually healthy in Joplin at all. That was a big factor that kept us away. But after 2 years of travelling once a month to visit Kiera, we started branching out and exploring the spiritual enviroment a bit more. I was actually incredibly pleasantly surprised at what I found!

Several months ago we visited a church out in the country that I really enjoyed, and told Jason that if I had known about this church when he was offered the job, I might have thought about it a little longer. Jason wasn't as fond of the church, but he certainly thought it would do for our monthly visits. Once we seriously started considering the move, we began looking even more diligently, and found a small church closer to the center of Joplin called Calvary Chapel, Joplin. They have a radio station that I started listening to online (www.kitgradio.com) and have really enjoyed. We were then able to visit with them last month while we were in town.

We stopped by Saturday to see if anyone was around, and they were. Apparently a handful of them make lunches every Saturday to take to the Salvation Army. The Senior Pastor was there, and we were able to spend a decent amount of time chatting with him and others, and received a tour of the building. Kiera, meanwhile, was playing with another little girl in the children's church area. When we showed up for church the next day, this little girl ran over, grabbed Kiera, & quickly took her back to the others, introducing her as her new best-friend! The Sunday morning Sermon was on Psalm 25, and addressed decision making & hearing God's voice. We felt strongly that we had heard the Lord's voice, and that this would be our home.

The miracle is, not only are we moving to Missouri, but we are super excited about it! Jason will be doing what he loves, and we will get to be near Kiera and other family!!! So the next item of prayer is the right job for me. This leads my mind back to all the amazing job provision stories I've lived up to this point, and that is likely where I will turn next in my writing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Marriage Fight Club



My marriage has truly been a gift from God to me, but I'd be a liar if I said married life has always been easy. And anyone who has ever been married would know it! :) With that said, Jason and I have been blessed to have a handful of wonderful individuals and couples in our lives who have walked with us and helped us through the bumps along the way. Most recently, we have joined Marriage Fight Club, and been surrounded by other couples from Trinity Church Dallas who are willing to walk honestly and transparently so all our marriages can be what they were truly designed to be. Our motto is: Divorce is not an option. Misery isn't either. Fight for your marriage.

In a day and age where our culture tells us we can choose to quit a married just like we can choose to quit a job, this group has been an incredible breath of fresh air. This small group is keepin' it real and has been a great match for our personalities! We don't know if we'll be able to find anything like it in Missouri, but we can sure hope!

Jason & Justin


As I've mentioned, my brother's name is Justin. Growing up, people always called him Jason, and I never understood how these two name's could be so easily confused. Now, after marrying a Jason I am offering humble apologies in my mind to all those I judged so rashly. :) I too am now guilty, which can create some wonderfully awkward moments at times! Regardless, last night my two "J's" had much in common. They both made my birthday far better than I had expected it to be!

You see, we have a tradition in my family, and that is to spread our birthday celebrations out as long as humanly possible! This year, Jason and I began at Christmas, when my folks bought us a fabulous camera, which would be spread out as ALL our gifts for the following year. Then in February, we ordered me the Power 90 workout videos, which was technically my gift from Jason. Then, we visited Missouri at the beginning of this month and Jason's folks treated me to a wonderful dinner at Mythos, and bought me a kickin' new belly-button ring! All that said, by my birthday, there really weren't many gifts left to receive!

The week before my birthday Jason did surprise me by saving up scrap metal and cashing it in to buy some massage oil... that was a super-bonus-points to husband surprise for sure!! So when I came home from work yesterday, I knew I would be getting a massage, but I wasn't expecting anything else. Jason had texted me during the day and asked me to come home as quickly as possible. I assumed it was because he was tired and didn't want to back out on the massage, but still wanted to get to bed early. I understood that, since after all, Tuesday is a pretty awkward day to have a birthday... especially when I don't get home till 8pm and he leaves for work at 5:30am!

All that to say, when I got home, there was quite a bit more waiting for me than I had expected! I opened the door to see my handsome, red-headed man dressed in his Sunday best with the table set for a wonderfully romantic dinner! Star-gazer lillies in a vase enveloped by a large teddy bear took center-stage beside the glowing candles that illuminated the beautiful and tasty gourmet meal he had prepared. Peaceful music of ocean waves breaking on the seashore prepared me for my candle lit and aromatic massage later in the evening.

Dinner was Beef Braciole with basil, red pepper and provolone cheese, topped with a marinara sauce, Sauteed New Potatoes sliced with Italian herbs and garlic, and a Crab Apple stuffed with garlic, basil and tomato feta cheese. YUM!!!

Before we left the dinner table, Jason brought me a gift that had come in the mail from my brother. I opened it to find a book I had given Justin for Christmas several years ago called, "Between Me and You, Brother: A few questions I've been meaning to ask." J had filled out every page and sent it back as my gift. And what an amazing gift! Jason and I sat down and read every page! I was a puddle of tears before we were done, and was filled with gratitude for these two incredible men in my life!

I guess Jason and Justin have more in common than I thought! And I had a FABULOUS birthday!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

427


Several years ago I began a profound, prolonged experience with the love of God, and I thought today would be an appropriate day to write about it. The senior pastor at my church was speaking from Ephesians 3, and encouraged us to pray that we would feel God's affections for us each day. Not just to know that He loves us, but that He in fact truly likes us! I decided to pursue this course of action, and prayed this prayer quite regularly.

Not so long after this, I began seeing the number 427 everywhere. It was on my receipt at the grocery store, the time on the digital clock, the length of my phone calls, the number on the side of cars at antique car shows... well, you get the idea! It was everywhere, and I wanted to know why.

Today of course is 4/27, and it just happens to be my birthday (31, baby!!). I started seeing all these "427's" several months before my birthday several years ago and it made me very excited about the approaching celebration. I figured God had something really great in store for me that year, and I was eager to find out what it was. Well, the day came and went, and while I celebrated with a few friends the night before, my actual birthday that year was the most low key birthday I had ever had. I worked all day, and went apartment hunting in the evening. I wasn't sure what to think about that, so I went to prayer and asked the Lord.

My answer didn't come immediately, but it did come. You see, I figured I'd stop seeing the "427's" after my birthday, but they actually kept appearing. Within a couple of weeks the Lord spoke to my heart and said, "Laurel, you know that feeling you get on your birthday, even when it's the most low-key day? That feeling like you're special and loved and important?" I thought about it for a moment and of course knew exactly what He was talking about. "Yes, Lord," I said in my spirit. "Well, that is why I'm showing you 427 everywhere. It's the answer to your prayers to feel my affections. Everytime you see it, I want you to be reminded of that special & loved feeling you have on your birthday, and know that's how I feel about you everyday."

Even now, years later, when I pray more consistently to feel the Lord's affections for me, I still see "427's", and when I stop, so do they. It's crazy, but it's true. He loves me... but even more, He likes me!

I love the heart shaped cake at the top of this entry, particularly because it has a slice out of it. I'll take a bite out of that kind of love anyday!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lions


...and woman, I might add.

I have to say, I love lions!! This likely started when I was in high school. There was a period of about 6 months where three different times people prayed for me that I was "Lion-Hearted." That really resonated with my spirit and was a significant encouragement to me.

Later, when I was in college, I was serving with the Jr High ministry at my church. I came back from Christmas break and the whole youth room had been redone, and the Lion was the new Jr. High mascot. In my heart I knew that this was where I was supposed to be serving. Several years passed and I felt it might be time to move on. I was thinking about serving with the 3-year-olds for a bit of a change of pace. When I mentioned this to the gentleman who oversaw the children, he said, "Well why don't you come back with me and take a look at the rooms. We've just changed things up a bit, and the 3-year-olds are in the Lion's room." In that moment I knew this was the appropriate transition.

The Valentine's Day before Jason & I got married, I gave him a stuffed Lion that I had. I mentioned to him that the Lord uses Lions to confirm to me where I'm supposed to be, so I thought it might be nice if he had one. Awwwwwwww... That, of course, was purely a confirmation of my own making, but I'd heard enough from the Lord at that point to feel safe. :)

Anyways, most recently, as we've been planning for our move to Missouri, I was reminded of the Lion principle again. A couple of our friends were thinking about moving with us, and one of them was considering taking some courses at the local university: Missouri Southern State University. I pulled up the website to check it our for her, and the face of a Lion (their mascot) faded in, with the words scrolling across the page: "Join the pride." I couldn't help but feel like we're heading in the right direction. Check it out if you want: http://www.mssu.edu/

Then, when we were visiting Missouri last month, we went to look at apartments. Jason had installed a theater room many years ago in a luxury apartment complex and wanted to go take a look. It was beautiful, with awesome accomodations, and was incredibly peaceful! My initial instinct was that we didn't need all that. Jason's initial instict was that it was perfect for us! Isn't that how marriage goes! Then I looked up and saw a fountain... I noticed it like I was seeing it for the first time... The water streaming down to the pool below was flowing out of the mouth of a Lion. The verdict is still open on this one, but I couldn't help but wonder if the Lord just may want to bless us with this wonderful living arrangement. I think Jason may be growing to love Lions too.

What About the Boys?


So, yes, I mentioned that we also have thought about names for boys. These names have changed more frequently than for the girls, but are worthy of discussion none-the-less. :)

At first we really liked Justin, since that is my brother's name, whom I adore, and the name of the Christ figure in The Circle Triology, by Ted Dekker, which my husband adores. (I am also a fan.) But then we decided that this name was just too ordinary for us. Anyone surprised after reading my last entry?!

Drake is what we came up with next. I learned that this name means "Dragon," and realized that some Christians would have a problem with that. Personally we do not, for several reasons. First, I think as Christians we're just a little too religious sometimes, and this would be one of those instances. Hope that doesn't offend anyone, but I've certainly been guilty of that myself on many occassions. Romans 14 has helped me immensely in lightening up and allowing other people to have their own opinions. :) Also, Jason is a big fan of "Dragon Lance," another series of fantasy fiction books. He explained to me that in these books Dragons can be good or bad, and have the potential for either... kind of like humans. [Btw, reminds me of another great Ted Dekker book called "Three," which expounds in a VERY unique way our human capacity for good & evil all rolled up in one skin.] Ultimately, in this context, I feel a Dragon is a great metaphor for personal responsibility and showing the importance of the choices we make. I feel that would be a great teaching tool for a child. This is why I love the name Drake, though I'm absolutely certain my brother would tell me I'm overthinking the matter! Nothing new there. :) Regardless, we have moved on... at least for now.

Next, and current, is the name Judah. We love this name for the Biblical significance it holds, as well as for the fact that it can be shortened to Jude... and that's just cool. "Hey Jude" is a pretty sweet song as well. There is so much that could be said Biblically about the name Judah, but I will have to do the full study before I expound. Right now, the fact that the Lion is the symbol of the Tribe of Judah is enough for me... but that's a whole other story!

What's in the Name?


Again, speaking of children, we do want more of them. We have names picked out for boys and girls, just because it's fun! I've been naming children and cars and just about everything since I was in 6th grade! The name of this blog is actually inspired by the two names we've chosen for girls if we have them.

Journey is our first choice, and came to me somewhat randomly one day. When I shared it with Jason, he immediately approved. Honestly it had nothing to do with the power ballad rock band formed in the '70's, but that was an after-thought plus. Dad, after all, is an avid music-lover. We also quickly settled on "Ilia" as a middle name, which happens to be a teenage girl Christian screamo band. (See picture above.) Kind of a unique combination. :) www.iliamusic.com - I was introduced to them the first time after Jason prayed that I would enjoy screamo music with him. I initially told him he couldn't pray that because it was against my will, but apparently prayer is more powerful than I was giving it credit for that day, as I quickly became a fan. There's something about chicks singing like that that just intrigues me... especially because they love Jesus!

Fathom is our choice if we have another daughter. No middle name picked out yet. This name came to us when we went to go see the Batman movie "Dark Knight." "Fathom Productions" flashed across the screen, and the following thought flashed across my mind: "That would be a cool name for a girl!" Not a moment later, Jason leaned over to me and whispered, "That'd be a cool name for a girl!" Were we made for each other or what?!

I love these names because we are all on a Journey in life, and for one who struggles at times with life-sucking perfectionism, it's a welcome reminder. And on this Journey, I want to continue to live in awe of our awesome God and His personal ways. His ways are unfathomable, but I still seek to Fathom them.

"...to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
- Philipians 3:19

Maternal Instinct


Speaking of children, as I said, I have a beautiful step-daughter named Kiera. I'm not fond of the term "step", but I have found it helpful at times for understanding my own role in her life, which is that after we have her with us for awhile, we do have to give her back. By nature I am very maternal, so even though she is not my flesh and blood, giving her back was hard at first. It has, however, make me all the more thankful for her biological mom, who intentionally shares her time with her daughter so that Kiera can grow up knowing her Dad as well. We are fortunate.

When Jason & I got married, I felt the Lord speak to my heart regarding my past in youth ministry, and my future as a step-mom. I have worked in youth ministry since I was 15, and I was feeling the Lord calling me on to new things. The transition was not easy, since it was such an integral part of my life for so long. But I felt the Lord speak to my heart and say, "All of your time in youth ministry has been preparation for this. You have loved other people's children your whole adult life, and now you will continue to do this as Kiera's step-mom." I was floored & immensely honored.

A New Adventure


Tomorrow is my 31st birthday and a new adventure is on the horizon! Jason (my husband of a year and a half) and I are moving to Missouri. Amy Adwalpalker, one of my good friends from college, says she always writes my address in pencil, as she has had to change it more frequently for me than for any other friend. Personally, I think this is fabulous, but simultaneously I do hope to settle down someday. :) Fortunately, I plant roots quickly, and wherever Jason & I are together is where we call home.

In and of itself, our move is a miracle, and I will get to this story in time. In fact, this story and other like it, are the reason I'm venturing forth into the world of blogging.

It wasn't so long ago, maybe a month, when Jason brought up the topic of blogging. He was reading the book, Crush It, and was discussing starting a blog about food, one of his deepest passions in life! He wanted to help me unveil my own passion, but I wasn't quite ready. Then, a few weeks later, a friend approached me after a prayer meeting where I have shared some stories of the Lord's work in my life. He asked if I had these stories written down anywhere, and suggested that I consider writing a book. I didn't take his brain child too seriously at first, as it seems that everyone is working on a book of their own these days. Nonetheless, the thought has not left me.

At this point, I'm not seeking a publisher outside of the button at the bottom of my page, but I have grown quite eager to chronicle the stories of my life. First and foremost this exercise is for me, as the almost constant teaching of Scripture is to remember... to remember what the Lord has done... and I am certainly a creature who is prone to forget. Second, I am writing for my children - for my step-daughter Kiera, and for the progeny of my own flesh who are yet to be born. Clearly, an equally present theme in Scripture is to teach our children what the Lord has done in our lives, so they will know that He is alive and will be encouraged to seek their own experiences with Him. Lastly, I write this for anyone else who cares to get to know me better & to be encouraged along the way.

May your heart be quickened to greater life as you join me on this unfathomable journey!